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Player ratings and analysis: Union 1-1 Galaxy

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

Let’s just put it out there: Danny Mwanga got the first 10 of the season.

Are you the matrix?

For the first 25 minutes of the second half, Mwanga announced himself with a relentless physical pounding of the LA defense. After 45 minutes chasing Le Toux and using a baby monitor on Carlos Ruiz, the Galaxy back four were wholly unprepared for Mwanga’s commitment to using strength and skill to drive into the final third.

How many people think Sean Franklin fluffs that back pass with Ruiz looming? Wrong.

After a virtuoso display against an MLS Cup favorite, we can expect calls for Mwanga to start on a regular basis, right? I mean, it would be ridiculous to argue that the most in-form striker in a struggling offense remain on the bench. We are all old enough to know that “supersub” is a term reserved for players not good enough to make the starting eleven, but with enough skill to influence a match in only 30 minutes of playing time, yes?

So tell me: Does “supersub” better describe Ruiz’s skillset or Mwanga’s?

Sixty more minutes of… this!?

Now that we have addressed the best of the U’s performance, it is time to tackle the worst. The feelings around the post-match locker room were unanimous: For the first 30, the team was too deep, too respectful, and too willing to soak up pressure from an LA squad full of playmakers. Juninho dictating a flowing offense within 35 yards of goal for half an hour? The Union would need eleven Michael Bay movie heroes on the pitch to keep the ball out of the net (Nicolas Cage’s character in The Rock can play The Dragon. Other suggestions?)

Nobody could explain why the Union were so dull. John Hackworth said after the match that the only positive of the first thirty was that LA used a lot of energy and only had the one goal.

Do I need to say it again? Philly is very good defensively. That should mean that the midfield doesn’t need to stay within butt-grinding distance of the back four. With athletic midfielders like Daniel pressuring wingers, and with Harvey and Williams playing so tight to their men, the midfield need not act as such a crutch for the back four.

Taking Donovan down a peg

Kyle Nakazawa was the first to figure this out on Wednesday. A few crunching tackles on Donovan and Juninho in the middle convinced LA to play a more east-west game. This is a mistake when Keon Daniel is just west of you, because he can close down space and tackle as well as any left mid in the league.

Nakazawa’s other major contribution to the match was his recognition that he and Brian Carroll were generating zippo by playing through the middle to Ruiz’s feet. The Galaxy were high pressuring all over the pitch. Small triangles were the only way for the Union to create the space needed to find good forward passing lanes. Naka, Daniel, Harvey and Carroll combined well in small spaces as the Union turned the tide of the match in their favor.

Dapper Daniel display

It was confusing that Daniel left the match after 45 minutes. The Union say it was merely a tactical sub. With Justin Mapp struggling to exert an influence, he seemed more likely to exit. But nitpicking Hackworth’s choices is a waste of time. His plan in the second half was clear: If the Galaxy weren’t coming to the Union, pack up the war elephants boys, we are going to them. The chaotic offensive outburst of the final twenty-five minutes may not constitute a true tactical plan, but it was sure better than whatever the real plan has been this year.

Player ratings

Faryd Mondragon – 8

The big knock on the big keeper is that he hasn’t had to make any big saves (or many saves at all). Well that wasn’t the case Wednesday. Multiple times in the second half, the Dragon was down quickly to keep the Galaxy from extending the lead. He tested his luck by bundling into Angel in the box, and he tested his body by playing through injury. Great performance.

Sheanon Williams – 9

The United States has never had a great crosser at fullback. Tim Chandler may be the guy now, but Sheanon Williams is the class of MLS in his position. Making consistent forays into the opponent’s half, he spun some beauties across the box with consistency and pace. Williams’ showing is particularly good because Carlos Valdes was obviously playing through a pair of early knocks.

Carlos Valdes – 8

After the opening whistle, the ball was bounced around in the air for almost a full minute. LA won every aerial challenge. It wasn’t until Valdes fearlessly stepped through Donovan to win a header that the Union realized there was a soccer match going on in front of them. When the Union were pushing for a goal late, Valdes stepped into the attack on multiple occasions.

Danny Califf – 7

A very good 90 from Bearfight. The Galaxy tried to expose him for speed but his positioning was good enough to cover every time (just barely, once or twice). He was one of the culprits on the Three Stooges play that led to Donovan’s goal, but that was an anomaly for a player who has been in fine form this season.

Jordan Harvey – 7

Harvey was off his game at the beginning, but he had one of his best games on the ball when the Union came into their own. Brian Carroll and Naka were willing to use Harvey early, and he controlled well and kept things simple. Harvey and Keon Daniel make each other better.

Keon Daniel – 7

Speaking of Neon Keon, he was the catalyst for the Union’s resurgence. A rough first 30 saw Daniel overplaying LA and leaving too much space behind him when he went flying into tackles. Once he regained his composure, the Union followed his lead. Daniel’s early frustration was a rarity from the even-keeled left middie, but it was just the emotional outburst the team needed as a wake up call.

Brian Carroll – 6

BC played as a third center back when the Union had possession (think Busquets for Barca). This positioning gave him the extra time he needs to pick out the right pass and let the offense go to work. On defense, Carroll is best when he is almost invisible. He reads plays so well that he can cut out even well placed passes. A big knock on Carroll was his lack of physicality, especially early on. Sure, Donovan and Juninho go down easy, but that doesn’t mean they should be allowed to possess without picking up a bruise or two on the ankle.

Kyle Nakazawa – 6

Naka would be higher if he had not been one of the poorest players for the first half hour. Pushed off the ball, unable to hold possession, and too slow to close space, it looked like Naka was in for a screamer. But that all changed when the Union were able to hold the ball. Naka was the second option from the center that Daniel and Mapp had to play easy passes to instead of threading the needle to the strikers. Sideline soccer is all about triangles and the Union have rarely had a vertex in the center of the pitch this year. Nakazawa was not fancy, but with Juninho chasing him on defense, the Galaxy were no longer able to set up shop in the Union end.

Justin Mapp – 4

An underwhelming show from the lefty specialist. Mapp was in one-touch-too-many mode much of the evening. Full credit to him for popping up all over the field, but such a creative player needs to have a more direct influence on the game.

Sebastien Le Toux – 5

Le Toux’s hard work won’t earn this one back. He had chances in front of goal and couldn’t make them count. I doubt Seba reads PSP, but he needs to get back to having fun on the field. And if he is having fun, he needs to let it show. Le Toux’s attitude is infectious, which means his frustration spreads as quickly as his enthusiasm.

Carlos Ruiz – 4

For the first 5 minutes of the match, Ruiz was out on the left. Hm, I thought, this is different. But it wasn’t. Soon he was back in middle. Ruiz showed more commitment to defense than usual, and his touch came and left during the match. Overall, this was far from his worst performance, but it was another argument that he is a poacher who should come off the bench to spell Mwanga, not the other way around.

Danny Mwanga – 10

What else can I write about Danny? How about I just leave a bit of space right here in case you want to plant a kiss on the screen:



Roger Torres – 5

Torres was not on the ball much and when he was he looked to play vertical. There were four strikers on the pitch. No need to go through the defense when there are plenty of ways to go around it.

Jack McInerney – 6

Mac didn’t do too much, but he put a nice low shot on net that Ricketts did well to save.

The fans

With the Harvey “red card” and the Donovan goal, the Union have found themselves in some early holes at home recently. And when a team struggles to exert itself on a match, it’s easy for the fans to lower their commitment to the cause. That has not been the case at PPL this year. After Donovan scored, there was a moment of stunned quiet. Just a moment. As the team looked at each other for answers, the fans took it upon themselves to pull the players back from the brink. Where the Union were timid, the fans were ferocious. It may have been a good thing that, of all the LA players, Donovan got the goal. Hearing his name over the loudspeaker galvanized the 19,000+ on hand to urge their team forward. And boy, did Mwanga pay them back or what?


  1. Justin Mapp has no business being on the field right now. He is terrible. His one-footedness is downright embarrassing. There were numerous occasions where he could have trapped, passed, dribbled, done anything on his right and he INTENTIONALLY ran around to use his left. All resulted in turnovers. Couple that with the fact that he is SLOW AS DIRT and our starting wide men should be Neon Keon and Marfan.

    • 100% agreed Eli. As Adam put it, his one touch too many mode is infuriating. It seemd like in this match he refused to pull the trigger on any shots or a timley passes. It got to the point where we would be screaming in my section to “shoot” or “pass” or “cross” and every time he would wait too long and the result was either a missed opening or a turnover.

    • While not neccessarily arguing against some of the other Mapp points you made, this is the second time I’ve seen you write that Mapp is slow.
      Where does that observation come from? I’ve never observed him looking slow, and by several accounts, including Jordan Harvey’s blog, Mapp is the fastest player on the team.
      “We did everything from the 40 yard dash that Justin Mapp crushed” – http://www.csnphilly.com/pages/blog_union

      • With the ball at feet he is not explosive at all. He may have excellent track speed (which still strikes me as odd, but obviously I was not there to witness), but he is constantly being overtaken by defenders. Also, I’ve never seen him run past anyone. Playing on the wing at this level, there has to be more to your game than slowing the play down and looking to pass through, sometimes you have to make something happen with your pace, something I can not recall ever seeing Mapp do.

      • Chris, I can’t speak to what he does in the 40 yard dash but on the field he is consistently beaten to the ball. When the ball squirts free and he is the same distance away as an opposing team member, he is beaten to the ball almost every time. Then the problem seems compounded by how long he holds the ball when he does have it. His decision making seems slow. By the time he decides to make the pass, the window has closed. That adds to the perception of slowness. Maybe it’s quickness he lacks. That burst to get to spot before the other guy as opposed to just running speed.

      • I’ll keep an eye out for it now, but I think the ‘perception of slowness’ is more accurate, and you made some good points here with his holding and decision making that emphasizes that for me.

        I’ve always thought Mapp runs with the ball at least as quick as any midfielder who has to touch the ball a lot (slowing their speed), the difference between him and a Daniel or Le Toux is that Mapp doesn’t do a good job of physically holding off overtakers or pushing the ball through a defender’s 50-50 challenge. Also, as Eli mentioned, his dependence on his left foot was annoyingly obvious in Wednesday’s match and I think it causes him to take longer routes when he pops up on the right side of midfield.

        More to the point, these flaws are equally as bad as slow speed given the same result, but are more fixable. I was just suprised to seem him get a slow-as-dirt label like I would expect for a Coudet or (I would imagine) Nowak during that charity game

      • haha CHACHO!!! Well done. That guy was SLOW.

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